Beer Guide By Type

If you go into a Chinese restaurant and end up being served a curry then you’ll be a bit disappointed, even if you like a curry. The same goes for getting served a cup of tea if you are expecting coffee. Our expectations for food and drink usually define our initial reaction. Most beers will tell you what style they are somewhere on the label to avoid any unfortunate surprises. Therefore to understand beer you need to understand what these styles mean.

However trying to categorize beer by type is a thankless task. Trying to distinguish the grey areas between Porter and Stout or Mild and Bitter is a fools errand. A similar task on wines would use the type of grape whilst Scotch whisky is also classed by the geographical location of the distillery. However beers with similar ingredients from the same brewery can be widely different. This is why the world of beer usual refers to names and styles that had evolved out of historical precedent rather than any cold considered notions. So a beer that describes itself as an Abbey Dubbel is notionally something in the traditional of a beer that took this name brewed by the Westmalle trappist abbey. However it could easily be any strong brown ale that a commercial brewery has paid to have their beer associated with an abbey.

More than anything else the style of beer should be taken as part of the brewers intentions. These may be to brew a classic Pilsner in the style of Czech beers of old or to come up with an IPA unlike any you’ve tasted before. Over time beers styles have splintered into subcategories like sects of particularly troubled religions. To these ends you could list hundreds of styles of beer. This site lists around 50 styles that cover all aspects of the brewing world and recommends five examples of each style.

Pale Lager

The most popular beers in the world, let down by so much bland, mass produced, wet air that gives great lagers a bad name. The likes of Becks, Budweiser and Stella Artois are all types of Pale/Premium Lager. The other main type of lager is a Pilsener which originally came from the Bohemian city of Pilsen and has a hoppier taste. Other pale lagers include the German Dortmunder and Helles ultra pale lagers and the Austrian amber lagers known as Marzen.

Dark Lager

If the malted barley used in brewing is roasted your get dark coloured beer. Dark coloured lagers are generally referred to as Dunkels whilst strong dark lagers are known as Bocks. There's no clear dividing line between the two so often you will see beers called Dunkler Bocks. These beers generally have roasted or burnt flavours, often with a fruitiness to them. A Schwarzbier is a type of German style of dark lager with chocolate or coffee flavours. They are often akin to a light stout or porter.

Dark & Amber Ale

Other countries may have purity laws and beers of eye-watering strengths. Britain has low strength warm and flat muddy coloured with self depreaciating names made in oversized sheds. An exaggeration perhaps, but there is a charm to the local, home-spun nature of many Bitters that can get lost in mass production. Stronger premium bitters or ESBs pack more of a punch, often with a fruity edge, and are becoming increasingly popular as brewers attempt to compete with the premium lager market.

Amber Ales with a caramel edge to the flavours are less common as a style in the UK these days and some of the main examples are found in France and Belgium these days. The spiritual home of Brown Ale is Newcastle though the style can vary widely with beers sitting anywhere between a bitter and a porter with a nutty flavour. A marvel that is undervalued these days is the Mild which can pack in masses of flavour into a beer that is less than 4% abv. Finally the French create wonderful "keeping beers" called Biere de Garde who slow cave aging contributes to a rural farmyard feel.


Stouts and Porters are dark beers. They get their dark colour from roasting the malt or barley to blacken it at the start of the brewing process. The terms Porter and Stout date back to the late 17th and early 18th century and their development is often closely linked. Thanks to the success of Guinness, Irish stouts are the most popular type of these beers. Wherever you go in the world you are unlikely to be far away from an Irish bar and a pint of the black stuff.

However stouts are widely produced outside Ireland, with the strong Imperial Stouts seeming to be an irresistable challenge for many craft brewers, espeacially in the USA. Stouts also seem to be quite versatile and you will often find them mixed with such things as chocolate, port and oysters. You'll also find Milk Stouts and Sweet Stout which play up the creaminess of the beers.

Pale Ale

With the dominance of lagers in bars around the world it no surprise that pale and golden colour ales are gaining in popularity. They are often marketed as a gateway to ales with any intimidating dark or bitter characteristics. The two main British Golden Ales are usually light and can often have a citrus edge to them, and IPAs which are drier and hoppier.

The German towns of Dusseldorf and Cologne porduce pale ales known as Altbier and Kolsch which are local specialities - in fact you might struggle to find anything else to drink in bars in those cities. There used to be quite a few Pale Ales brewed in Britain however you'll find these more in Belgium and the USA today. Finally Saisons are a complex amber coloured ale found in Northern Europe.

Strong Ale

Strong ales are generally anything that is 6% alcohol by volume or higher. 150 years ago it was common for many beers to be this strength. However in Britain the combination of the industrial revolution and war time laws lead to authorities reducing the strength of beers to around 4%. No such problem affected the development of beers in Belgium where most beers appear at 6% or above and many move into double figures with a potent mix of spices to match. The classic Belgian strong ale is the blonde Duvel which is widely available.

English brewers often try out concoctions that are far stronger than a premium bitter for real ale festivals as a way of getting noticed and sometimes suffer from overpowering the brew. The malty flavours of Scotch Ales are as widely appreciated in Belgium as they are in the Highlands, however there is a developing interest in the UK for aging beers in whisky casks, with the brand leaders in this field being Innis & Gunn. Another British classic is the potent Barley Wine which is a dark sipping beer that is usually 10% or above and should pack a mix of complex flavours. There is a crossover with the taste profile of the moderate strength Old Ales that can still be found.


Belgian boasts a curious bond between beer and religion. There are hundreds of Abbey beers available that are either made by monks, based on old religious recipes or just take the name of an order to brand a brewers take on the style. The primary abbey styles in are the dark Dubbels, the strong blonde Tripels and the absurdly strong dark Quadrupels.

Belgian also boasts a wide range of Sour Ales such as the Rodenbach beers which are usually aged in oak barrels and feel like lambics with dry cherry flavours. Finally categorisation dictates that the miriad of other styles concoted by the endlessly experimental Belgian brewers are grouped together and referred to as Belgian Ales.

Wheat Beer

Wheat beers have a higher proportion of wheat used in the brewing process in place of some of the malted barley that beers traditionally use. The types of wheat beer vary by country with Belgian varities being called Witbiers and often containing orange peel and spices in the style of Hoegaarden. The Germans don't adulterate their Hefeweizen wheat beers giving a subtler taste. Dark versions of these beers made with roasted barley are called Dunkelweizens. The British versions are often more akin to Golden Ales are and termed Wheat Ales.

Lambic Beer

Lambic beers are a Belgian speciality made using a random approach. They use stale hops and instead of using a specific strain of yeast to trigger fermentation they are left exposed in large shallow vats. Here wild yeasts in the air settle on the beer to trigger "spontaneous fermentation". The beers are then left to ferment over a number of years giving range of different flavours. There are only a handful of lambic brewers, all of whom are based in the Senne valley in Belgium near Brussels.

Lambics can be served Unblended when it is flat and sour or sugar can be added to give a spritzier sweeter beer known as a Faro. Most commerically available lambic is a blend of gassy young beers with more deeply flavoured matured beers known as Gueuze whilst Fruit Lambics, such as Kriek or Framboise, are quite common as well.

Other Beers

There are a wide range of Fruit Beers produced ranging from sickly sweet versions made with syrups to to intense version that have been aged in mashed fruit for months. Smoked beers use malted barley that has been dried over fires to give a complexity of taste using a method more familiar to the whisky industry.

Whilst most beers are still based on a combination of hops and barley brewers have revived a number of Traditional Ales that use heather and other ingredients used hundreds of years ago whilst other beers can have Unusual Ingredients added to the mix. Last, and in most cases least as well are Low Alcohol beers which are a thing of convenience rather than what brewers dream about at night.